The next government has been urged to treat patient incidents caused by avoidable shortages in prescription medicines as ‘never events’ by a group of MPs.

Never events are defined as serious incidents that are wholly preventable and represent a failure by providers of NHS care to follow NHS England guidance.

The All Party Pharmacy Group, chaired by Labour MP Sir Kevin Barron, has proposed making avoidable drug shortages a type of serious incident governed by NHS England guidance on never events, in order to reduce potential harm to patients.

Pills and tablets

MPs have said that existing quotas on drugs are ‘opaque and inflexible’

The proposal, which was published shortly before Parliament was dissolved last week, is one of a series of recommendations that the group wishes to see the next government implement during its first 100 days.

An inquiry conducted by the industry funded group into shortages of NHS prescription medicines in 2012 found that they were largely caused by the exporting of medicines intended for NHS patients to other EU countries.

This is legal under EU laws permitting the free movement of goods. Many drugs licensed in the UK and prescribed by the NHS can be sold at much higher prices elsewhere in Europe.

To help address the shortages, manufacturers and other parts of the supply chain introduced quotas designed to set aside the necessary quantity of medicines to the NHS.

However, MPs have said that such quotas are “opaque and inflexible”.

Sir Kevin said last year: “Quotas imposed by manufacturers and some wholesalers remain in force. These are often opaque and inflexible, meaning that community pharmacists are still having to spend a large amount of their time negotiating to obtain the medicines their patients need.

“Pharmacists are sometimes having to ration medicines in order to manage shortages.”   

The group’s 2012 inquiry concluded that while the Department of Health has sought to address the problem, the interventions had had “no effect” on shortages.

The proposals published last month also recommend the next government establishes a system that accurately monitors medicines in the supply chain and detects shortage risks.

Actions for the New Government’s First 100 Days also advocates the decriminalisation of dispensing errors and the creation of a pharmacy led national minor ailments service.

The group, which does not sit during the election campaign, receives funding from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and trade bodies including the National Pharmacy Association and the Company Chemists’ Association.